Ann H. Sisson, owned Federal Hill restaurant

Sisson's Restaurant and Pub became the state's first brew pub

  • Ann H. Sisson
Ann H. Sisson (Baltimore Sun )
June 12, 2013|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Ann H. Sisson, who established with her husband a popular Federal Hill restaurant and bar that later became the state's first brew pub, died June 4 from complications of dementia at Keswick Multi-Care Center. She was 89.

The daughter of a civil engineer and a homemaker, the former Ann Elizabeth Hamill was born in Baltimore and raised on St. Dunstans Garth in Homeland.

After graduating in 1941 from Mount St. Agnes High School, she attended Mercy Hospital School of Nursing for a year. She later trained at the Peabody Institute and became an accomplished pianist.

She was married in 1944 to Lt. John Thomas Wells III, a West Point graduate who died in 1951 during the Korean War.

Left to raise her three children alone, Mrs. Sisson earned her real estate license and went to work selling real estate.

In 1961, she married John Callanan, a widower and a chemical engineer who had four children. In 1962, their son, John Francis "Jack" Callanan, was born.

When her husband died in 1969, she returned to work as a travel agent.

In 1972, she married Albert F. Sisson, a businessman who owned and operated a rug-cleaning business and later a Locust Point stainless-steel fabricating company.

Mr. Sisson brought his three sons to his new wife's already-large family.

"They were added to the growing clan that was fondly known as the Wellananssons," said Joann Wells Greenbaum, her daughter, who lives in Shohola, Pa.

The couple, who received a dollar house in the city's Otterbein neighborhood in the early 1970s, became champions of downtown living.

In 1979, they purchased the former Sticky Fingers bar on East Cross Street, across from the Cross Street Market. After rehabbing the old bar, they opened it as Sisson's Restaurant and Pub.

"I always thought he had an ulterior motive — he wanted to get me and my cousin to learn a business," Mrs. Sisson's stepson, Hugh Sisson, told The Baltimore Sun at the time of her husband's death in 2009. "The day he got the place ready, he threw the keys at me and said, 'Don't foul up.'"

After receiving help from state Sen. George Della, who represented the district, Mr. Sisson was able to persuade the General Assembly to pass legislation allowing licensed brew pubs. In 1989, Sisson's became the first in the state.

"It became a popular place for Baltimore's discerning diners," Ms. Greenbaum said.

"She was more involved with the back of the house but occasionally worked out front as a host greeting people," said Mr. Sisson, who later sold the business and now owns Clipper City Brewing Co. in Halethorpe.

"It was very informal and when she'd come in with my dad, she'd go from table to table talking to people," said Mr. Sisson, who lives in Towson. "Annie was part of the face of the organization and the personality of it."

Mr. Sisson described his stepmother as "very whimsical."

"Annie had a very gentle side and a big sense of humor, and she could be very direct," he said. "If she saw something that was going down and it was not right, she was very direct. She was not brusque but very direct."

Mrs. Sisson and her husband retired to a farm near Wilmington, N.C. They returned to Baltimore in 2001 after he suffered a stroke and moved into an apartment in Ruxton Towers. They later moved to the Glen Meadows Retirement Community in Glen Arm.

Mrs. Sisson was active in mental health, women's and environmental protection issues, and she and her husband were world travelers.

She enjoyed boating, swimming and reading, and was particularly interested in history, her daughter said.

A memorial service celebrating Mrs. Sisson's life will be held at 1 p.m. July 21 at the Cloisters, 10440 Falls Road in Lutherville.

In addition to Ms. Greenbaum and Mr. Sisson, she is survived by three sons, John Thomas Wells IV of Washington, Patrick Joseph Wells of Las Vegas and John Francis "Jack" Callanan of Baltimore; three stepdaughters, Peggy Callanan Cohen and Judi Callanan Devlin, both of Baltimore, and Tia Callanan Schwartzman of Silver Spring; two other stepsons, Albert Mercer Sisson of Harleysville, Pa., and Christopher "Topher" Sisson of Baltimore; and 15 grandchildren. Her stepson Mark Callanan died in 2006.

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